It may have been the moment Nicola Adams had her arm lifted in triumph as the first woman to win a boxing gold, it may have been when Sarah Attar, the Saudi Arabian 800m runner, received an ovation after coming home well off the pace in a heat, or it may have been earlier than that, before the action started when Bahiya al-Hamad stepped out in the opening ceremony holding the Qatari flag. Jacques Rogge, in the audience for all of them, does not like to pick out one moment – it is not his style – but collected together those snapshots of London 2012 should take pride of place in the album of the reserved Belgian’s tenure as the “man in charge of sport”.
Rogge’s dozen years as president of the International Olympic Committee end on Tuesday night in Buenos Aires with the election of his successor – it will be a he, the six candidates are all men, and that might cause a raised eyebrow from the incumbent. Nothing more than that, a momentary flicker of disappointment, for the 71-year-old is not one for shows of public emotion.
There is something of John Major about Rogge, the bureaucrat’s bureaucrat. But this grey, careful man leaves the Olympic movement in a better place than he found it on his election in 2001 and it is his quiet promotion of equality within sport that should see him applauded off the stage.
“We’re fighting the right course,” said Rogge of his decision to push women’s rights within Olympic sport. “It’s a strong message that reverberates around the world.”
The London 2012 Games were the first where every nation included men and women, and it came about in significant part through Rogge driving the IOC’s attempts to pressure Saudi Arabia in particular – they, Qatar and Brunei included female athletes for the first time. It was done sotto voce, but that is Rogge’s style and the result earned the IOC praise from the likes of Human Rights Watch. For a body that steers clear of anything that could be seen as attracting political controversy – there was a flat refusal to allow a minute’s silence in London to mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre – this is unusual territory.
The success of London – the “gracious and glorious Games,” as Rogge put it – will see him depart with a sense of satisfaction. Right now the Olympics are in a good place, although the new president will have significant challenges presented by the next two Games, first the winter event in Sochi next year with the growing controversy over Russia’s stance on homosexuality, and then in Rio. The 2016 Games promise another build-up, or rather slow build, like Athens. There are genuine concerns over the scale of the task facing Rio, and Rogge may be privately relieved he will be back home pottering round Ghent’s museums rather than on what may well be a rocky road.
Another imminent issue is November’s doping conference in Johannesburg where the new anti-doping code will be approved – an increase in sanctions so athletes miss one Games for a first offence is the headline measure. Doping will be a constant, red-flagged accompaniment for the new man. It was for Rogge and he can point to progress on his watch, even if for many the IOC has still not gone far enough.
Under his controversial predecessor Juan Antonio Samaranch, who ruled – a word used advisedly – the IOC for 21 years, the governing body was accused of not taking doping seriously enough. Much of the IOC president’s role is about talking the talk – it is a curious job, partly symbolic as in a modern-day monarchy, part prime ministerial. There is power and there certainly is influence, but much of it is about setting the tone. Rogge certainly did that on doping, demanding a “zero tolerance” policy across sport, and there was action, too.
The number of dope tests at the Games has doubled to 5,000 and there are also more rigorous pre-Games testing programmes and an increase in out-of-competition testing. Rogge also pushed for greater use of biological passports.
“We really stepped up the fight,” he said. “It is far more difficult to get doped today than it used to be a couple of years ago. Today the Lance Armstrong case could not occur because the sensitivity for the EPO testing is far higher than it used to be back in 2005.”
The other sporting dark cloud Rogge raised his umbrella and urged sport to shelter from is match-fixing. He pushed for people to take the issue seriously and understand the threat it posed, whether that be to football, cricket or Olympic sport. For an IOC president to issue a call to arms to begin a new sporting war on a par with the one being fought against doping, and recognising its potential severity, is to take an appropriate lead.
Rogge also capped the Olympics – the cost and size of the Games have not sat comfortably with today’s age of austerity. He put a limit of 10,500 athletes and 28 sports on the summer Games. The price of hosting, and bidding, for an Olympics remains a live issue even if there are still plenty who want it. Baku and Doha were among the unsuccessful bidders for 2020.
As is Rogge’s wont there was much quiet diplomacy and studied leadership away from the spotlight. The IOC is financially in a good place and relations with the United States have been repaired under the direction of the former surgeon. Rogge was three times an Olympic sailor and for his biggest sporting role he has plotted a steady course. With him at the helm the IOC has become a better respected and trusted organisation, the days of the corrupt shambles of the Salt Lake City scandal before the 2002 Winter Olympics are for the most part gone; compare the progress made by the IOC under Rogge in repairing a tarnished image to that of their Swiss neighbours at Fifa under Sepp Blatter.
It is Rogge himself who perhaps best summed up his presidency at his final press conference in Buenos Aires. “I did my duty,” he said. “I did what I had to do. If it has benefited the International Olympic Committee, I’m happy, but don’t look at me as a miracle doctor.”
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